The Prix Goncourt – the oldest and most prestigious literary prize in France – has been awarded to 31-year-old Mohamed Mbougar Sarr from Senegal. He’s the youngest winner since 1976 and the first from sub-Saharan Africa. He won for his critically acclaimed novel, The Most Secret Memory of Men, about a young Senegalese writer living in Paris.
The jury made a unanimous decision to award Mbougar Sarr the prize after just one round of voting, calling his work “a hymn to literature”.
Also one of the youngest winners, the 31-year-old received six votes in the first round, announced Philippe Claudel, secretary general of the Goncourt, at the Drouant restaurant, for the novel published by Philippe Rey and inspired by the cursed fate of the Malian writer Yambo Ouologuem.
“I feel a lot of joy. Quite simply,” he told the press on his arrival at Drouant, in the heart of Paris.
“There is no age in literature. One can arrive very young, or at 67, at 30, at 70 and yet be very old,” he added.
Other voices went to Sorj Chalandon for Enfant de salaud and to Haitian Louis-Philippe Dalembert for Milwaukee Blues. None of them went to Christine Angot for Le Voyage dans l’Est, which won the Prix Médicis last week.
“With this young author, we are back to the basics of the Goncourt testament. 31 years old, a few books ahead. Let’s hope that the Goncourt will not cut off his desire to continue,” commented Philippe Claudel, of the jury.
“That was done in the first round. It is written in a flamboyant way. It is a hymn to literature,” said Paule Constant, another member of the jury.
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr succeeds Hervé Le Tellier, whose novel L’Anomalie was awarded last year at a ceremony in video conference, because of the health crisis related to Covid-19.
The Goncourt Prize, awarded by a jury of seven men and three women, brings in a check for 10 euros but guarantees sales of hundreds of thousands of copies. Hervé Le Tellier has even exceeded one million copies in less than a year.
The Renaudot prize, announced just after in the same place, was awarded to the Belgian Amélie Nothomb for First Blood, dedicated to her father, who died in 2020.